How the machinery of enablement works in American theatre.

This is a case study of how the machinery of enablement of sexual harassers and abusers works in American theatre. It involves Raphael Martin, the ex-Director of New Work at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York; and American Theater Magazine and its publisher the Theatre Communications Group (TCG).

I.

In October 2016, I read this piece by poet Annie Finch, an account of sexual harassment in the literary world. Her descriptions reminded me of the sexual harassment I’d experienced from the then-Director of New Work at Soho Rep, Raphael Martin, in 2013; and how that harassment had negatively influenced my career trajectory, and informed my negative feelings toward Soho Rep. Inspired by Finch, I wrote a Facebook post about my experience with Martin. Many people saw it and responded, but apparently none at Soho Rep. I looked at their staff and board list, recognized the name of a Facebook friend, and sent my friend my Facebook post via private message. My friend responded immediately and, with my permission, shared my post on their personal Facebook wall, asking if anyone else had also been sexually harassed by Martin. Apparently many had—all young female theatre artists, like me—and submitted their accounts to my friend. Within a few days, Martin was fired.

At the time, I felt satisfied that Soho Rep had done the right thing. But I was a little confused that none of the leadership at Soho Rep had reached out to me, and that there was no press coverage of the incident; the firing of the Director of New Work at one of New York’s most prestigious independent theatre institutions had apparently gone unnoticed.

Since then, Martin has set up a theatrical consultancy agency in London. In other words, he was free to simply pick up and move shop, with few the wiser. This pattern is a crucial element in every culture of abuse: academia, high school sports, the Catholic priesthood, and so on. So I wrote to Sarah Benson, the Artistic Director of Soho Rep. She responded very kindly and thoughtfully, acknowledged the harm done to myself and the field, and thanked me for coming forward, then and now; but said that, as difficult as it was, the theater was not in a position to revisit the incident in a public way.

I don’t know why. And I wonder if there are reasons I can’t know why.

I wish they’d noticed that Martin seemed to pursue meetings only with young women theatre artists.I wish they’d reached out to check in with me after I came forward. I wish they’d publicly taken responsibility for Martin’s long-term employment and the extensive damage it did to the field. And most especially, I wish they—and all theatrical institutions—would look more closely at their part in the American theatrical community’s culture of scarcity, secrecy, and exclusivity, which deters so many women from coming forward.

I wish Soho Rep knew me as a playwright and not as a whistleblower.

II.

Last fall, a friend sent me a post by a journalist at American Theater Magazine (AT), the nation’s “only general-circulation magazine devoted to theatre.” The journalist was soliciting accounts of sexual harassment in theatre. I was one of approximately a hundred people to get in touch with her, and spent a long time talking to her on the phone about my experiences, which included naming names on the record, including that of Raphael Martin. She was terrific, receptive and compassionate.

Months went by. I tweeted at AT, asking whether they were planning to publish anything from the amounts of information they’d gotten. They sent me link to a published article, here. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and it’s not hard to see why: because though it’s well-written, it says very little except that sexual harassment and abuse is an enormous problem in American theatre, with illustrations thereof, but no names or institutions attached. I didn’t blame the journalist. I gave her names—lots of us did—and she seemed to want to publish them. So I got in touch with her to ask what had happened. She said that the leadership at TCG (the publisher of AT) had overruled her, opting instead to anonymize everything because they didn’t want the legal liability, and that naming names (of people or institutions) was “not in line with their mission.”

III.

This is how the machinery of enablement works.

And this is how it breaks: when individual victims take on the risk of speaking out.

For a variety of reasons, I do, and have before. Those reasons might merit their own blog post one day. But what I want to emphasize now is: this is not a matter of “having a chip on my shoulder.” It’s a matter of sexual harassment and abuse being a major public health and safety issue in all sectors of our society, and wanting to do something about it, especially when the leadership of arts institutions tend to do whatever it takes to preserve themselves first, at the direct cost of the health and safety of the individuals they’re supposed to serve. There is a vacuum of moral leadership in American theatre. This is especially ironic given theatrical institutions’ self-positioning as bastions of progress. Many are not. They merely replicate the same biases, abuses, and failures that exist in larger society, and then brand it as “arts advocacy” to its donors. Adding insult to injury, this “advocacy” is a means by which hundreds of people make a sound living, with health insurance and retirement benefits; meanwhile, actual theatre artists cannot make a living at all.

I wrote to the Editor-in-Chief of ATM, Rob Weinert-Kendt; and the Executive Director of TCG, Teresa Eyring. Both of them wrote me back kindly, but did not reverse their decision. I told them both I appreciated their responses, but did not agree with their decision or their reasoning. I think American Theater Magazine leadership should have empowered and supported its reporter to name the names we gave her. I think American Theater Magazine and its publisher, TCG, should seriously reexamine its mission if its mission does not include protecting the basic health and safety of theatre artists. And I think American Theater Magazine and its publisher, TCG, owe an apology to the entire theatrical community for its complicity in the machinery of enablement.

No matter what, donors to AT and TCG should start asking questions.

IV.

In my opinion, Martin needs serious psychological help, and until he receives it, he should not be in any position where he works with younger women in a theatrical or other context. If Mr. Martin would like to sue me, he’s welcome to try; I have exactly one asset—my car—and $159 to my name. Luckily for me, truth is an absolute defense in defamation cases. Nothing I’ve said in public or in private is untrue.

If any commenters are looking to engage me in “debate,” you should know that I have to approve all comments before they go live, and I’m not interested in debating. I’ve thought about publishing a post like this for months, discussed it with many people I trust, and am at peace with my decision. I will delete your comments.

If any reporters would like to get in touch with me to speak on the record about any of the above, you can contact me through my web site.

Thank you for reading.

~

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22 Comments on “How the machinery of enablement works in American theatre.”

  1. jamjarhead says:

    I am lucky to know you and I herald your forthrightness. What in the world is there to “debate”?

  2. Annette Adamska says:

    Thank you for your consistent and unflappable perseverance in all you do. Love and support, as always.

  3. Way to go, Monica Byrne, playwright, author, everything.

  4. Dietmar Bloech says:

    Thank you for this article and for not shying back from the institutinalized wall of silence! Pieces like this need to be published and spread – thank you for your strength! ❤

  5. Peter S Roberts says:

    “There is an (ironic) vacuum of moral leadership in American theatre,”

    Sadly, it’s a consistent path – follow the money, especially in fields where institutions are “resource dependent”. The self-interested shield themselves, their funders and donors from being associated with hard truths, that could be socially isolating, by deceiving through silence or suppression to sustain their power and position.

    Let’s encourage calls for honest revelation like yours – not-for-profits are granted their status as public trusts, but in a democracy it seems that we, the public, have a responsibility to actively monitor their governance and management.

  6. etrask says:

    Thank you. In solidarity.

  7. Karen says:

    Every hammer stroke chips away at thousands and thousands of years of women, in all cultures, being regarded as second class humans. Keep chipping, Monica. It makes a difference.

  8. Hap says:

    “The standard you walk by is the standard you accept.”

    If people whose mission is life and death (the Australian military) can manage to understand that and change their behavior and yet still perform their missions, I’m not sure why theater companies (among other institutions) can’t.

  9. kathyrandall says:

    Thank you for your courage to speak where others feel they cannot. You give voice to the voiceless and speech to the silenced.

    And yes. We need to look at all sectors. Society as a whole enables sexual harassment. We need to change.

  10. Carla Davis-Castro says:

    Bravo for coming forward time and again. I think it equally important to consider a future post on how you’ve made the decision to speak out.

  11. Paula says:

    You are doing a great service to all of us in this field by speaking so forthrightly. And we will know you as a playwright. We just have to clean house (a gendered expression once upon a time) first. Your writing will last long after everyone who has abused his/her power in the theatre is gone. If there’s one thing ephemeral about theatre, let it be them.

  12. Jeremy Hersh says:

    Thank you.

  13. James McNeel says:

    Brava to you for this thoughtful, honest, and needed message. As evidenced by today’s note from American Theatre magazine, your story is, albeit slowly, making change — which is much-needed.

  14. mmoschitto says:

    Thank you for articulating things I didn’t even know I felt or intuited. Your candor and forthrightness is appreciated.

  15. Mike Moreno says:

    Have you seen if the NYT, WP, NPR or other news organization that supports the arts will take up the mantel and responsibility of publishing this story in more depth than TCG?

  16. […] How the machinery of enablement works in American theatre. → […]

  17. […] like for female and non-binary theatremakers — especially after reading Monica Byrne’s blog post about her experience with sexual harassment in the New York theatre community. Outlets like […]

  18. […] Byrne’s response “A Case Study of How the Machinery of Enablement Works in American Theatre” (online March 28, 2018) […]

  19. London theatremaker says:

    Raphael Martin is helping make good work over here in London. And we’ve never heard of you or any of your plays.

    • Monica Byrne says:

      Read this and read it very carefully. When you troll me, you piss me off. When you piss me off, I work harder. Because you posted this comment, I’m going to re-post about Raphael on the London theatre groups I know, and also link a woman who was assaulted by him to a journalist who’s collecting stories on sexual abusers in theatre. I’m not the kind of person you can hurt or intimidate with this stupid shit. But nice fucking try.


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